Peace Be With You: The Life and Music of Mr. Burt Bacharach

My wife and mother-in-law were chatting on the phone last night. In the course of their conversation, they discussed the day’s weather…it had been a rainy, dreary day. Then my mother-in-law said that the dreariness of the day wasn’t helped by the news about Burt Bacharach. My wife responded by asking, “Who?” I looked up from what I had been doing. My mother-in-law paused, clearly caught off guard. In that instant a generational divide had been revealed in my home. My wife had no idea who Burt Bacharach was. In fact, she had never heard his name before it was spoken by my mother-in-law. My wife turned to my eldest daughter to see if she had heard of this name before and she hadn’t, either. My mother-in-law and I both offered up some scant details about the man such as he was someone who wrote many, many hit songs. My mother-in-law stated a few of them. All legendary tunes or so we thought. But my wife and daughter just shrugged their shoulders. Obviously, the life and death of Burt Bacharach was only news of note for us older folks. So, today’s post is being written for my wife, Keri and daughter, Leah. Burt Bacharach lived a full and impactful life and is someone worth knowing about. As for those of you who know the man and his work, feel free to read along and celebrate the life of one of the entertainment world’s most accomplished artists. Here is the story of Burt Bacharach. Enjoy.

Burt Bacharach was 94 years old when he passed away this week. Over the course of his legendary career as a singer/songwriter, Bacharach won six Grammy awards and three Academy Awards. He had been awarded the Gershwin Prize for songwriting twice. A list of the songs he wrote on his own or with his writing partner, Hal David, reads like a Hall of Fame roster of musical classics. His work included such hits as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, “(They Long To Be) Close To You”, “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)”, “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Blue on Blue”, “Walk On By”, “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me”, “What The World Needs Now”, “What’s New Pussycat?”, “Casino Royale”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “Heartlight”, “That’s What Friends Are For” and many, many more.

Burt Bacharach and Marlene Dietrich

Bacharach began his career in music while in the US Army during the 1950s. It was while in the army that he met singer Vic Damone who, at the time, had quite the reputation as a crooner. Damone invited Bacharach to play piano for him in his band, but after a short time, Bacharach’s skill outshone his supporting role and he struck out on his own. One of the first influential people he met and began a working relationship with was legendary movie star and performer, Marlene Dietrich. With her, Bacharach served as musical director and composer. Together they toured the world during the latter half of the 1950s. During this period, Bacharach got to work with musicians from all over the world. He particularly enjoyed his time in Russia, Israel and the Scandinavian countries because of how highly music was esteemed in those countries. As their professional partnership ended, Dietrich stated that her time with Bacharach, although strictly platonic, was, in her words, “like seventh heaven”. She went on to say, “As a man, he embodied everything a woman could wish for. How many such men are there? For me, he was the only one”.

Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick

Throughout the early part of the 1960s Burt Bacharach was one of the many incredibly talented songwriters employed at The Brill Building in New York City. (You can read a post about that scene here). It was while employed at The Brill Building that Bacharach met his lifelong professional partner Hal David. Together they wrote hit songs for Country star Marty Robbins as well as for crooner Perry Como. But it was when they began working with singer Dionne Warwick that their careers as songwriters really took off. Over the course of her career Dionne Warwick sold over 22 million albums. Almost every single one of her hits was written by Bacharach and David including, “Walk On By”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Alfie” and more.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David with their Oscars for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”.

As the 1960s progressed and Bacharach’s reputation for songwriting continued to grow, he decided it was time to expand his repertoire and began releasing his own music. His initial records had a distinct Jazz influence to them and, as a result, his own music became popular with accomplished Jazz players, including such huge stars as Stan Getz, who released an entire album of Jazz standards based on Burt Bacharach’s tunes. But that was not all! The 1960s saw Burt Bacharach’s career explode in many different ways. For example, he began writing music for Broadway shows and for Hollywood movies, too. In fact, he wrote the first “James Bond” theme song in the history of that storied franchise when he wrote “Casino Royale”. That led to further soundtrack work such as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, which won Bacharach his first two Academy Awards for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (One for Best Song in a Movie and the second for Best Score). A decade or so later, Bacharach would win a third Academy Award for the movie, Arthur.

In his private life, Burt Bacharach was married four times and had a total of four children. In 1999 he was selected as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive”. In all, Burt Bacharach wrote almost 200 songs that became hits on radio, in film and/or on Broadway. He stands as one of the most prolific and successful songwriters in the history of modern music. Bacharach’s music is part of the cultural fabric of America and the world and will remain so, even in death. Burt Bacharach’s life was well lived. He has certainly earned his rest. Peace be with you, Mr. Bacharach. Thank you for dedicating your life to music and the craft of songwriting. We are all the better for your efforts.

The link to the video “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David as sung by B.J. Thomas can be found here.

The link to the official website for Burt Bacharach can be found here.